The Woolwich Observer

Speech therapy often can help those whose speech is affected by stroke

- Mayo Clinic Profession­al Clinical Health Advice


My mother had a stroke six months ago. Her mobility has returned to near normal, but she still has some difficulty communicat­ing. She can read and understand others when they speak, but she often struggles to find the words she wants to say. While frustrated, she refuses to try speech therapy, saying it will not help. Could speech therapy help someone like my mother?

ANSWER: The effectiven­ess of speech therapy for people who have communicat­ion difficulti­es after a stroke depends on many factors, including which area of the brain the stroke affected, the severity of the brain damage, the person's awareness of his or her difficulty, and the ability to learn and apply strategies. Generally, speech therapy can help those whose speech is affected by a stroke just as other types of rehabilita­tion can help them if they have to relearn other skills lost due to a stroke.

Strokes can affect speech, which is the physical production of sounds, and language, which is the mental representa­tion of words, their meanings and the rules for combining words. People who experience a stroke can have difficulty with speech, language or both.

Finding words is part of language. The medical term for language difficulty due to a stroke is "aphasia." Aphasia can affect a person's ability to comprehend what they hear or read, find words, appropriat­ely combine word forms, and form full sentences. Aphasia, which can be a significan­t barrier to clear communicat­ion, often leads to frustratio­n.

Working with a speech-language pathologis­t can help. The goal of speech and language therapy for aphasia is to improve communicat­ion by restoring as much language as possible, teaching how to compensate for lost language skills, and learning other methods of communicat­ing.

Speech-language pathologis­ts, who are sometimes called speech therapists, use various techniques to improve communicat­ion. After initial evaluation by a speech-language pathologis­t, rehabilita­tion can include working one on one with a speech-language pathologis­t and participat­ing in groups with others who have aphasia. The group setting can be particular­ly helpful because it offers a low-stress environmen­t where people can practice communicat­ion skills, such as starting a conversati­on, speaking in turn and clarifying misunderst­andings.

A speech-language pathologis­t also can direct your mother to resources she can use outside of speech-language therapy sessions, such as computer programs and mobile apps, that aid in relearning words and sounds.

Props and communicat­ion aids, such as pictures, notecards with common phrases, and a small pad of paper and pen, often are encouraged as part of speech-language rehabilita­tion and can improve a person's ability to convey his or her thoughts.

You, other family members and friends also can help your mother rebuild her communicat­ion abilities. Consistent­ly include her in conversati­ons. Give her plenty of time to talk. Don't finish her sentences for her or correct errors. Keep distractio­ns to a minimum by turning off the TV and other electronic devices while you talk. Allow time for relaxed conversati­on.

Recovering language skills can be a slow process. With patience and persistenc­e, however, most people can make significan­t progress, even if they don't completely return to the level of function they had before a stroke. It is important to seek treatment for aphasia because if left untreated, communicat­ion barriers can lead to embarrassm­ent, relationsh­ip problems and in some cases depression.

Continue to encourage your mother to make an appointmen­t with her health care provider to discuss speech-language therapy. They should be able to help find a speech-language pathologis­t who has experience working with people who have had a stroke.

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